Columbia welcomes Cushing and ‘Haj’ Gueye

By CiaraShook

When working in the fashion industry, it’s always important to remember where you came from.

Payson “Bunky” Cushing, a senior sales and merchandising consultant at Ralph Lauren, got his start in the business working odd jobs in a men’s prep shop in Ann Arbor,  Mich.

Cushing and Chicago custom tailor, Elhadji “Haj” Gueye of HAJ Designs, visited Columbia on Nov. 17 for the menswear installment of “Fashion Talks,” a panel series hosted by Columbia College Fashion Association. The discussion was moderated by Brigette Burnett, senior broadcast journalism student, and was located on the 8th floor of the 618 S. Michigan Ave. building.

The panel discussed menswear because it is a sector of the industry that the fashion programs at Columbia don’t focus on, said Christopher Lea, a junior interdisciplinary major of fashion/retail management and journalism and president of CCFA.

“We want to give students more information on that part of the industry,” Lea said. “I’m hoping for students to learn more about menswear, to get interested in it.”

Gueye learned menswear first and took classes to learn women’s clothing. Born in Senegal and raised in Paris, Gueye learned the craft from his dad, a prominent men’s clothier in Paris.

“Classes started at home,” Gueye said. “I was learning women’s [clothing design] in school, so I’d go to school to do ladies’ clothes, and I [would] come home and help my dad in men’s clothing.”

Upon moving to Chicago, late comedian Bernie Mac’s then-emerging standup act caught the eye of Gueye,and he began to design his suits out of his studio apartment, which is now part of the 2 East 8th Residence Center, 2 E. 8th St.

Since the late ’80s, Gueye has become one of the more well-known designers in Chicago. Gueye said the key to designing clothes is to design something people can wear everyday.

“Look your best and don’t chase the game,” Gueye said. “Let the game come to you.”

Cushing started working at a grocery store in Ann Arbor, Mich., when the owner of a local clothing store noticed his style and offered him a job. This job sent him to a seminar at New York University where he met Ralph Lauren in 1974.

“He talked about his vision and what he liked and it was very close to the clothes I liked,” Cushing said. “After the talk, Mr. Lauren left and from the window, I saw him standing on the curb, hailing a cab. Now it’s jets, limousines and assistants, but I remember that lone figure hailing a cab because he did it himself.”

After working in Michigan, New York City and Miami, Cushing moved to Chicago to work for Polo Ralph Lauren. Cushing is now known in Chicago as a trendsetter, fundraiser and party host.

“Start at the bottom and reach for the sky,” Cushing said. “If you start somewhere, get your foot in the door and they will know you are interested.”

Cushing said the most important thing in the business of fashion is to be optimistic, even in tough economic times.

“People just stopped buying, but the most important thing is to be optimistic,”Cushing said.

Cushing said it’s also important to have a friendly staff rather than snobby.

“You don’t know what the person is going through who walks in the doors,” Cushing said. “Mr. Lauren does not like to hear when people are being rude.”

Gueye said passion is the most important thing to have in fashion design.

“If you give your all, you’ll get it back,” Gueye said. “The passion was there and the money came later.”